Unicode is a standard for encoding text across multiple writing systems. MariaDB 5.5 supports a number of character sets for storing Unicode data:

Character Set Description Added
ucs2 UCS-2, each character is represented by a 2-byte code with the most significant byte first. Fixed-length 16-bit encoding.
utf8 UTF-8 encoding using one to three bytes per character. Basic Latin letters, numbers and punctuation use one byte. European and Middle East letters mostly fit into 2 bytes. Korean, Chinese, and Japanese ideographs use 3-bytes. No supplementary characters are stored.
utf8mb3 Currently an alias for utf8. MariaDB 5.5
utf8mb4 Same as utf8, but stores supplementary characters in four bytes. MariaDB 5.5
utf16 UTF-16, same as ucs2, but stores supplementary characters in 32 bits. 16 or 32-bits. MariaDB 5.5
utf32 UTF-32, fixed-length 32-bit encoding. MariaDB 5.5
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